During a holiday weekend, my teenage daughter, Shannon, and my husband, Craig, were preparing to wash and wax her car. As they were setting up the buckets, hose, and cleaning materials, I was sitting on our deck out of eyesight but not out of earshot. I heard Shannon ask her Dad, “Do you need any help?” Craig replied, “It’s up to you.” Shannon woefully said, “I never do a good enough job.”
The words hung in the air….and continued hanging in the air. Seconds ticked by. Inwardly I urged Craig to answer the question. Don’t let those words linger. Nothing. Answer her question I felt like screaming. Don’t let this moment pass by. Time continued to pass very slowly.
Unable to stand it any longer and feeling like an eavesdropper on a private conversation between a daughter and her Dad, I went into the house. I jotted down a few phrases inside the book I was reading that described what I had just heard.
- Always trying
- Always chasing
- Always competing
- Wants her father’s love and approval and praise
The prior day I had been to the beautician, Olivia, who my daughter and I both use. My daughter had seen Olivia two days prior to my appointment. Olivia and I were discussing how Shannon may succumb to “senioritis” during her final year of high school. Olivia told me that Shannon had said she won’t have senioritis because Shannon wants to ensure she outperforms everything her older brother has done.
Our son and daughter are overachievers in academics and athletics. Shannon is driven to prove herself to her father and to outshine her brother. I admire and respect her drive, ambition, and competitiveness. I also fully understand it. I have been driven throughout my entire life to please my father and to achieve as much or more than he achieved.
Winning the praise and approval of parents is something most of us crave. This feeling continues as we encounter teachers, coaches and supervisors. We want them to notice our efforts and to praise us. Words of praise and encouragement are golden and can turn us into superheroes.
I recently read The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. The authors set out to discover why girls and women have less confidence than boys and men. They visited with neuroscientists who have discovered the confidence gene, psychologists who study confidence, and senior level women in politics, sports, the military, business and the arts. In school, girls are expected to keep their heads down, study quietly, and do as they’re told. These behaviors don’t translate well in the workplace for advancing careers.
Kay and Shipman discovered that men rely less on praise to feel confident. Men don’t let their doubts stop them as often as women do and they spend less time thinking about the possible consequences of failure. Research has shown that success correlates more closely with confidence than it does with competence. Without confidence, we live stuck at the starting block of our potential.
Shannon came into the house about mid-way through the car washing activity and I shared my observations with her—she is always trying, always chasing, always competing, and trying hard to win the love, approval and praise of her father. Shannon’s eyes welled with tears and her voice choked with raw emotion. She rasped, “When I have a great volleyball game, Dad criticizes the way I play. I just want him to tell me that I played well.” I told her that both Dad and I are proud of her volleyball skills and her grades.
Shannon went back outside and finished washing and waxing her car with her Dad. Later in the day, I had a conversation with Craig about Shannon’s revealing statement, “I never do a good enough job.” Kudos go to my husband because he did address Shannon’s comment with her by giving her examples of things she does well.
For each of us to crack the confidence code of others, it requires our efforts as parents, teachers, coaches and managers to recognize and praise our children, students, players, colleagues and employees. Finding magical moments to say something that helps others put on their superhero cape builds their confidence and their ability to succeed.
Jeff Haden wrote an article about the elements of highly effective praise. We can apply these tips in our personal and professional lives:
- Don’t wait; begin recognition and compliments now
- Be specific
- Be genuine
- Save constructive feedback for another time
- Spend time looking for and commenting on the things that are done right
- Be surprising; provide recognition and praise when it isn’t expected
- Treat people like snowflakes—everyone is different
Recognition and compliments nourish our souls and fuel our desire to succeed.